Freedom! Independence! Coffee! These are the promises of a freelance life, and it’s a wonderful image. As I branched out from corporate life (got fired…again) I embraced the freelance ethos of not letting the man get me down, living life on my terms and working from coffee shops with a superior smirk at the ready, should some office bound hack come my way.
The problem is, freelancing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I found that while I liked the idea – and still do – I’m just not suited to it; I needed to find a way to get the best of freelancing, while taking the best things from corporate life – consistent income, the resources of others, the flexibility to work beyond the structures of an intermediary or freelancing site – without the gross parts that make me want to spit bile. I wanted to freelance while behaving like a business.
So I made a list of the things I wanted and didn’t want. I had to accept that some basics came with having a business, like budgets and product offerings beyond, “I do writing,” but there were clear lines in the sand – I would not work in an office, be restricted to office hours, or work with anyone who took themselves too seriously.
Here’s the most important of those rules, adapted over time.
1. Act Like a Business
The perception of being a business of substance is important. Probably not to you, but your prospects like to feel comfortable engaging you, they want to sense there is more accountability than your promise.
- Invest in a website – you’re not as good at WordPress as you think (unless you’re a WP designer).
- Find some good marketing automation software. Combine MailChimp with a marketing stack – Hubspot, Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Buffer are all good places to start. Spend some time creating a social calendar and a way to collect leads from your website.
- Get an accounting system with invoicing capability – I use Xero, Quickbooks is awesome, but there are heaps of options out there.
- Get a logo. I spent ages on this and eventually I just found a font I liked. Check out www.knighttime.com.au, for my mindbogglingly simple creation.
- Get business cards. I hate business cards; they seem so dated in the digital age, but go to Moo.com and spend hours creating.
2. Charge Like a Business
Freelancers sell on price, and (good) businesses sell on value. When I started ‘being’ a business, I had to put up my prices for new clients – because businesses charge more. This was good news, both for my clients and I, because there was increased accountability from me, and realistically, I was (and am) still charging below market rates. That’s cool because I have overheads so low I could bump my face on them, and businesses are far less price sensitive than freelancers.
I’ll talk more about packaging in a later blog, but in the meantime define at least two offerings that you can charge for, either on an extended project basis or as a monthly commitment. If this is intimidated, do what I do – use it as a guarantee.
“If you don’t like our work, just stop – there’s no commitment.” It’s a powerful statement, because it increases accountability again, and it’s true. The best guarantees are crystal clear with no positioning and offer genuine peace of mind.
3. Tack On Offerings
One of the most frustrating parts of being a freelance writer was when I had to leave money on the table. “Can you do web design? I need this blog to look awesome.” “Do you know Photoshop?” “Can you create my logo?” Every time I had to shake my head and walk away, knowing that I’d likely opened the door to another freelancer who would gladly claim to be a writer despite their lack of, you know, writing experience.
Now, I have a little group of loyal peeps who I’ve tested and used on heaps of engagements. They understand that when they deal with a client, they’re my team member and should act as such. Why would they do this? Because I get them paid! I don’t clip the ticket too much, treat them fairly, remember they’re not your employees, and make sure the offering is still compelling for the client. Boom! More freelancers, doing their freelance thang.
4. Don’t Spend Money On Pointless Junk
Things are going well! Don’t listen to anyone who says you should move into a shared space – that’s called a library or a park. Don’t for goodness sake hire staff, even on a casual basis. Don’t upgrade the car (yet) and don’t think you’ve got the whole thing sorted. The strength of freelancing is adaptability – you can be fluid according to market conditions and adapt your offering, marketing, structure or…well, anything if needs be.
I mentioned my low cost base – that’s advantageous, not only from an adaptability point of view, but also for authenticity’s sake. You see, I don’t care about the Mercedes, the big office or the bottles of champagne…and that brings me to the most important point.
5. Define What You Want, and Do That Fearlessly
I want to sit on the beach, in a park, or wherever with the sun on my face, and a skateboard, headphones, and coffee not too far away. I passionately want to create works that matter to my clients. I like working hard, but on my own terms.
None of these things may resonate with you, and that’s fine. Define your vision, and force it into life by being an epic freelancer, who runs their own business. Begin with the right mindset and the right clients, freelancers and supporters will show up.
Featured photo credit: Camille Kimberley via Unsplash via unsplash.com